So there are times when I’m a haiku addict, and while I mean more writing than reading, there are several books in the house and I have a twitter stream saved that I can skim whenever I feel the need. That stream gives me a cross section from incredible to cringe, but it’s always worth the read. Often, it gives me haiku in different languages; while I can usually work out the French ones, everything else needs a little Google Translate assist when I’m in the mood.
All that said, I write a lot of haiku. It’s certainly the lion’s share of my poetry in recent years. Right now, it’s probably two or three per week, but I go through periods where I’m penning, typing, or dictating five per day, sometimes more. Probably, there have been something over a thousand in the past two years.
I’m not entirely a traditionalist. While I like the 5-7-5 format, I’ll play around with shorter versions of the same basic structure, accounting for the difference in information density of English instead of Japanese. Not all of my haiku are based on a natural image, which I suppose makes the ones that aren’t technically senryu, and a few even fit into the Science Fiction and Fantasy genres.
I haven’t shared very much lately, but I used to release some into the ether regularly. Thinking it’s time I start that again, so here are a few, written sometime in the last year.
Drifting on cool wind
Trails of smoke above the grass
Swallowed by darkness
A patient old crow–
Air shimmers above the road
That will provide food
Ancient flutes imagined
On a thick breeze
Behind a closed door
Small balls of fur lie waiting
Practice combat skills
Leopard in a box
Curled up, seams not quite bursting
The catness shines throughby
Okay, dramatically oversimplified. I’ve left out cutting and kigo. And I’ve left out how haiku been imported to half the languages on the planet, doesn’t have to conform to the traditional 5-7-5, and how it doesn’t have to be seasonal in nature anymore.
I love haiku, reading and writing. One of my writing goals this year, and the one I’m most likely to hit, is to compose 500 of them. As of this writing, I’m over 100 so far for the year, and there are two books on the form in my reading list for this year.
I mostly like the forced 5-7-5 structure, even though you can argue that English has a higher information density so that should be cut back a bit to a total of either 11 or 12 syllables. While I’m considering experimenting, the 5-7-5 is easily recognized by pretty much everyone as “standard haiku”.
For subject matter, however, while my haiku don’t always reflect the natural world, there’s nature everywhere. Sometimes (fairly often) it’s nature. Sometimes it’s human nature. Sometimes it’s (science) fictional nature.
The thing is, I’m not sure where the fascination came from. There was a time, ten years or so back, when I was in the middle of a long term experiment with a variety of poetic forms, as much to stretch myself as to find forms I like. (Side note: free verse, so beloved of modern poets, is not poetry. No structure = not a poem. Feel free to argue if you like.)
I did find other forms I like, but the haiku keeps coming back, so this year I’m embracing it.
Three of my favourites from January:
Dance to fall under the knife
Protein for the soup
A fistful of rage
Denied the right to oppress
True righteous anger
Bound by gravity
A thousand spinning stars wait
Pale, blue-tinged cotton
Be well, everyone.by
If it’s not the question, at least it’s a question.
For reasons known to only my subconscious, I’ve been writing a lot of haiku lately, and I’ve decided to focus the efforts into a pair of poetry projects. Some of the haiku I’ve been posted, one per day, to Twitter and Facebook, under the #dailyhaiku hashtag. Yes, strictly speaking they’re not all haiku. Some are senryu, some are scifiku (or scifaiku, but I don’t think the ‘a’ is really necessary and I want to pronounce it differently), and some are, well, I’ll get to that in a minute.
Haiku = traditional form of Japanese poetry consisting of 3 lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables respectively, 17 total. Haiku need to contain a seasonal or natural reference and often catch a single thought and/or image. There’s a lot more to it than that if you look at things in depth, and there’s been a lot written on the subject in many languages.
Senryu = traditional form of Japanese poetry consisting of 3 lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables respectively, 17 total. Wait, what? Isn’t that haiku? Well, yes, but where haiku looks at the natural world, senryu have to do with human affairs. Again, I’m oversimplifying, but I’m not an expert. Many people lump them together, anyway, as evidenced by a quick Google returning 13.8 million hits for haiku but only 338,000 for senryu.
Veering back from the tangent, 3 lines, 17 syllables. Well, in Japanese. When you’re looking at a purely syllabic structure and porting it from one language to another, the relative information density of both languages comes into play. English is, apparently, a little denser than Japanese. You can have fewer than 17 syllables; 13-15 gives about the same information content in English as 17 does in Japanese, but anything up to 17 is fine. (Russian, I’ve read, is a little less dense than Japanese, and haiku tend to the 20-21 syllable mark.)
So I’m calling this project Daily Haiku. Now, a nice numerical conjunction would be to think of that 17 classical syllables and write one each day for 17 days. But that seems a little short for a project, doesn’t it? Well, how about for 17*17 days (289)? Less than a year, but still a fairly hefty project, even if each individual piece of it doesn’t take very long (a couple have taken only as long to compose as they’ve taken to type). And yes, because I am a total geek, I did stop to figure out what 1717 days works out to, and the universe will be cold and dark long, long before that many years have passed (2.266 x 1018), so no.
A non-17-syllable example from the 13th of April:
The sump pump runs hard
Trying to keep my basement
That’s haiku project Number 1, which began on April 1st this year and will theoretically end on January 14th 2012, if I feel like stopping. Haiku project Number 2, The Star Trek Haiku Cycle, comes under the heading of Scifiku (Scifiku, by the way, to my mind constitutes a sub-class of senryu. SCIence FIction haiKU, or SCIence Fiction hAIKU, depending on how you want to spell it). I’m writing a single haiku for each episode and movie of the original Star Trek series. Yes, really. And why not? I’m a trekkie (and you should be, too).
Will I move on to the other Star Trek series when I’m done? Well, the animated series, probably, but if you stop to add things up across all of the shows, there are 725 episodes and 11 movies. That’s a much bigger project. We’ll see.
It’s hard to encapsulate an entire episode in three lines, but you can grab a moment or a concept. Some are obvious, some not. But see if you can guess what episode this is from:
Not morg, not imorg
Brain and brain, what is brain?
Who can say?